The Arizona Cardinals went 11-5 last season and reached the playoffs. But they had to do their late-season heavy lifting without starting quarterback Carson Palmer. Palmer suffered an ACL tear to his knee, the second in his career, in November of 2014, just two days after signing a three-year, $50 million contract extension.
But that contract extension has proved to be his saving grace. Palmer will head into 2015 as the Cardinals’ starting quarterback yet again. And if the team’s offseason workouts are any indication, he’ll do so healthy and ready to pick up where he left off.
The team met Monday for what has been deemed “Phase 2” of its offseason program, hitting the practice field for the first time and running live plays.
As Kyle Odegard of the Cardinals’ official website puts it, “Palmer was right in the mix,” working with the first-team offense in all of their drills. Odegard continued, “He not only handed the ball off to the running backs, but zipped short, intermediate and deep throws to his receivers.”
While Palmer is still in the thick of his rehabilitation process, his return to the practice field was a big moment for him. Palmer said:
Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to do everything once OTAs start, but I’ll be able to do just about everything. It’s important [to participate] because I enjoy it. I can’t wait for tomorrow and I can’t wait for every day.
Part of Palmer’s process back to the field is re-learning the mechanics of his position. Given his experience with such a significant injury, it’s not new territory for him. Still, he is aware he is a ways off from being in regular-season form. Palmer said:
All those little things that still go through my head every couple reps, I’m fighting to get to the point where you just don’t think about that anymore. It just becomes natural. Just ingraining all those small mechanical movements is something that takes repetition after repetition.
Palmer completed 141 of his 224 pass attempts in 2014, for 1,626 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. After his injury, Palmer was replaced by Drew Stanton, who then missed three games with a knee injury of his own. Stanton, too, is on his way back to full health, and he also joined the team on the field on Monday.
Palmer, 35, seems to have no loss of competitiveness or his drive to play. As he said to Odegard:
I’m always competing against other quarterbacks in the league in my head, and there are a lot of guys not coming off injuries. I have to work that much harder, spend that much more time on it. But that part’s easy for me. I like the work. I like the feeling I have when I go home, just knowing, ‘Man, I’m done. I couldn’t have done any more reps today. I don’t even want my kids to tackle me when I walk in the door today because I’m so tired.’ I enjoy that feeling. That part’s not an issue for me.
Palmer will have a few weeks off before hitting the field with his teammates again. The Cardinals have their rookie minicamp scheduled to run from May 8 to 10 and then the whole team will convene for additional OTAs on May 19 through 21, May 26 through 28 and June 1 through 4. Full-team minicamp begins on June 9 and run through June 11.
Photo: USA Today Sports